This was about the mid-seventies, about seventy-five or six. I was downtown in Lorain, about eleven in the morning. I was walking south, heading in the general direction of home, after a morning appointment.
In those days, there was still some foot traffic on Broadway during business hours, as there were still businesses open then. I was enjoying the sunshine and the warmth of the morning.
I crossed Eighth Street, passing the drugstore and Stone's Grill, still about an hour or so out from home. A walk like this was a pleasure, not even thought of as exercise.
As I reached the Ninth Street corner, I side-stepped to let Willie and his junk wagon pass me, heading north. Willie and his cart had been a Broadway fixture for years, smiling, friendly, hauling his load, adding to it, until he'd schlep his full cart to the junkyard at Thirty-Sixth and Broadway to sell his finds; he lived in a shack near the junkyard.
As Willie passed me on my left, I waved and greeted him, but recieved no response. Indeed, the only evidence of his passing (other than visual) was the odor of burning things, clinging to his form as he retreated from view. Probably burnt something he couldn't get rid of, thought I, and forgot about it.
I reached home on schedule, had some lunch, and sat down with my mother to watch tv. My younger brothers were still in school, and wouldn't be home for another couple of hours.
At three-fifteen, my brother Mike came strolling in, rummaged in the fridge and, mumbling something about "a friend's house", bopped back out the door. As he left, Phil, my youngest brother, came in, all thirteen years of him, talking a mile a minute to a pal of his who'd traipsed home with him.
I was catching snatches of their conversation, not really paying attention, until I heard Mike (his friend) say"...burned to death in his shack".
A chill dribbled down my spine. "Mike", I said, "who burned to death?"
"Willie...y'know, the junk dude."
I needed to be sure, so I asked, "Are you sure it was Willie? What time did it happen?"
"I was there", Mike told me "I was walkin' to school this mornin', and I saw the firemen tryin' to put it out-they said he might've fallen asleep in the shack with a fire goin', or was trying to cook breakfast or somethin', and the fire got out of hand-they said he was still in there, and the shack was burnin' all over."
"What time did you come past"? "About eight-thirty...I was late...why...what's up?"
"Just...curious", said I.